Many Merchant Marine Academy cadets sail to Iraq BY BILL BLEYER | firstname.lastname@example.org PM EDT, March 14, 2009 In his "sea year" at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, cadet Craig Losi sailed on three cargo ships that visited 14 countries. But one voyage stood apart. That was aboard the Alliance New York from April to July last year when it carried military vehicles to the Persian Gulf to supply American and Iraqi forces. While members of the Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan receive a lot of attention, students and graduates of the federal service academy at Kings Point who supply them work in virtual obscurity. They have been doing the same job in every conflict since World War II, when the 965-student academy was founded to supply officers for America's merchant fleet. "We're the only federal academy that sent our students into conflict," said Capt. Gene Albert, who oversees the process of matching midshipman with ship for their sea year. "Our job is to train future merchant mariners. We train those mariners on commercial vessels, wherever those commercial vessels go." More than 500 cadets have traveled to the Persian Gulf since the Sept. 11 attacks, including 70 percent, or about 150 students, of the members of the Class of 2008. Kings Point graduates have also sailed to the dangerous region as officers of cargo ships moving military supplies. And some graduates have served in Iraq and Afghanistan as Naval Reservists called up to active duty in the Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard. About a quarter of each class since Sept. 11, those who have chosen to go into active service upon graduation, have been sent to those theaters. One graduate, Aaron Seesan of the Class of 2003, died in 2005 in Iraq while serving in the Army. Losi, 22, of New Hyde Park, Class of '09, said "it was a good feeling to know that what we were doing -- bringing over American-made armored personnel carriers to our troops -- was helping out with the effort." "Maybe people don't appreciate that all those tanks and heavy pieces of equipment have to go over on ships and that it's Americans who are doing it," Losi said. Sailing to the Persian Gulf was memorable for other reasons. "We crossed through the Gulf of Aden between Somalia and Yemen," Losi said, "and there's a lot of piracy over there. We heard on the radio that there were ships checking out suspicious craft." Losi said the likelihood of being attacked by terrorists in the Persian Gulf was not very high because "there's a pretty large contingent of American forces around. Nonetheless, "you're still on high alert whenever you're in that region." John Bellissimo, a 1994 graduate, was posted to Persian Gulf when he was called up for active duty in the Navy. Bellissimo, 36, of Manhattan and formerly of Stony Brook, was in Baghdad for a year starting in October 2007. He was a staff planner developing seaports and railroads. While never under fire, he said "obviously there was danger of rocket and mortar attacks." A commander in the Naval Reserve who has managed cargo operations in Port Elizabeth, N.J., before working in capital markets, Bellissimo called his work "extremely stimulating and rewarding." The Navy awarded Bellissimo the Bronze Star for "meritorious service in a war zone."